1. Should judges on TV shows be nicer after what happened on X Factor?
I was always honest and direct with contestants but I never wanted to be cruel. You have to respect the fact they're putting in a lot of effort. God, I'd never do it. What a horror show - just awful - the poor things. It's about respect. You should give them all the information so they can work things out in their own minds. The show has to be entertaining too, so you've got to select people really carefully.
2. Are all cooks control freaks?
My family think I am. It drives them nuts. I think mostly in the kitchen, but they think everywhere in the entire universe. I know I'm critical. I try to calm it down but it's frightening some of the things people who aren't trained like me do in a kitchen. If they work differently from me, I leave the room. The most annoying thing someone can do in the kitchen is whistle. It drives you crazy.
3. Have you gone paleo yet?
The paleo diet is hysterically funny. Why do people do it? There are too many stupid diets. Look, it's food, you're meant to enjoy it. If you want to lose weight, don't eat so much. We're hardwired to enjoy food. That's why we like cooking shows. It's like hanging around the kitchen - a lot of people don't get to do that anymore. I think we worry too much about food being healthy. People have been living for centuries getting excellent nutrition from real food. Not food with additives, not processed food, just real food. Tip all those vitamin pills down the toilet. Honestly, just get some exercise, be moderate. Sit down to eat at the table, make eye contact. My job involves a lot of tasting but you don't need to chow down on a whole plate of it. I get up early and walk for an hour each morning. Food is so much more than fuel. I lectured at AUT University in gastronomy, which is all about the sociology, anthropology and history of food. It's really interesting.
4. Can you recall an early food memory?
I remember hearing my grandfather asking my grandmother what she thought about a tomato he'd grown in their garden in Matamata. She said, "It's very good but it's a little bit acidic". She was Italian and Italians have very firm ideas of what things should taste like. I remember registering that food was something to take seriously.
5. When did you think food might be a career?
While I was studying history at university, I got a part-time job in a restaurant called La Boheme. I met my partner Jenny at that time. She and a friend opened a French restaurant with me as a chef. So we did that while I finished my masters thesis. We had a bust-up with the partner and then I worked in a few good restaurants like Clichy. I don't really have any other interests apart from food. I'm a little bit obsessed, in the nicest possible way.
6. You and Jenny have always worked and lived together. How do you manage that?
Oh, you know, we think every week is our last. It's been tumultuous but seems to have worked. We've been together for 40 years. You've got to realise that you're not always right. Jenny's job is to run me and she does an extremely good job. She's clever, the most compassionate person I know and far more patient than me. My attention span is minuscule. Our two adult children live and work from here too. Our biggest pleasure is going out for dinner as a family every couple of months.
7. How old are you?
No, we're not going there. It's too cliched, the age thing. It's boring. It only becomes relevant when you can't do things and you're hurting. Luckily I haven't got to that yet.
8. Which cookbooks have most influenced you?
Elizabeth David. Simple, interesting food presented really nicely. No pictures, just drawings. It's all in your head. Lois Daish's column in the Listener was extremely good. Boy, she knew her stuff. Alison Holst got people cooking real food. That's really important. I don't want to be evangelical about this but it's why I write, apart from the money of course. I want to show people that cooking is easy, fun and really satisfying. Cooking should be taught in schools - the earlier the better. Kids just love it. A Harvard 2003 study found the rate of cooking in any society directly predicts the rate of obesity. The more cooking the less obesity, end of story. The perfect diet is you can eat anything you like but you have to make it yourself. We should also teach kids how to shop in a supermarket, how to read labels and work out what's processed.
9. Do we have time to cook?
Do you think our grandmothers had more time? Of course they didn't. No one has ever had any time. What you do is you prioritise. If you don't want to surrender your diet to corporations and 16-year-old burger flippers you have to learn to cook.
10. Have you ever failed?
No. I did fail first-year French but I went back and got it. It's probably through not doing things you know you're going to fail at. Who wants to look like an idiot? Not me. I look like it enough.
11. Should restaurant reviewers be chefs?
Reviewers should be able to give an informed opinion. They don't have to be an expert but they do need to be, I don't mean this in a pretentious way, sophisticated. There's no point a hillbilly doing it. Just knowing about restaurants, their culture and how things should work.
12. Are you judging the next season of MasterChef?
No, five years is enough. Josh Emmett is staying. Simon Gault didn't want to do it and I was very happy not to be asked. Being on TV was good for business but I've actually had enough thank you. I'm very curious to see who they get as an expert on food. I'm sure they'll find someone good.